Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

“Algorithmic Rapture”: Music Composed by a Computer

August 23rd, 2012 / in Research News / by Erwin Gianchandani

Also in this week’s Nature, a fascinating review of an album of evolved music, composed by the Darwinian computer program Iamus, that is “at the very least musically ‘plausible'”:

Iamus awaits performers and audience to begin making music in Sala María Cristina, Spain [image courtesy J. Dragón via Nature; reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature 488, 458 (23 August 2012) doi:10.1038/488458a, copyright 2012].If a computer can produce an artwork that moves us, does it take artificial intelligence beyond an important threshold? That is one of the questions raised by Iamus, an algorithm that composes music from scratch, developed by Francisco Vico and his colleagues at the University of Malaga in Spain.


Iamus, an album of compositions by the algorithm — including two orchestral pieces played by the London Symphony Orchestra — comes out on 1 September. A live performance of several Iamus pieces was broadcast in July to commemorate the centenary of the birth of British computing pioneer Alan Turing.


The recordings, scored for a variety of chamber and orchestral ensembles, are at the very least musically ‘plausible’, and some listeners have found them stimulating, both intellectually and expressively. They should provoke lively discussion [more following the link…].


Composers, most notably the experimentalist Iannis Xenakis, have been using computers to make music since the 1960s. And there is nothing especially new about an algorithmic approach to composition: the rule-bound, even formulaic, nature of most music lends itself to that. A program called CHORAL, devised in the 1980s by computer scientist Kemal Ebcioğlu to harmonize chorales in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach, drew on principles of harmony and melody observed by Bach himself.


Computer scientists have also succeeded in making programs that learn from human examples. Even their creators admitted that early improvisational algorithms such as GenBebop, created in the early 1990s by cognitive scientists Lee Spector and Adam Alpern to produce jazz solos in the style of Charlie Parker, gave indifferent results. The Continuator program, devised a decade later by François Pachet at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris, is much more convincing, particularly when it elaborates on improvisations by a human pianist.


It is quite another matter, however, for a computer to come up with captivating music without relying on human input for the raw ideas. Before now, such efforts have often sounded like pastiche, using clichéd harmonic progressions and melodic structures.


This is where Iamus’s creators claim to have something new…


Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature 488, 458 (23 August 2012) doi:10.1038/488458a, copyright 2012.

Read the rest of the review in Nature (subscription required) — and check out a sample of Iamus’ debut CD in the video below.

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)

“Algorithmic Rapture”: Music Composed by a Computer

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